I recently had a misunderstanding with a member of my family over blogging, something I wrote about my son and posted online in particular. I tried to convince this relative that it was pure satire, tongue-in-cheek, like “A Modest Proposal” but with Star Wars references peppered throughout. Needless to say, the conversation turned ugly and things were said that we both regret. But, in retrospect, he had a point.
This relative was furious that I would post anything negative about my son or that I would make it appear I resented my own child or would seek to harm him in any way. I meant no harm to my 4-year-old, but at least one person out there thought different. What if others made the same mistake?
What if one of them was my son?
If something tragic happened to me today and, years down the line, my son found online some of the stories I had written about him, would he also misunderstand my references without me around to explain or defend what I wrote? What would my son think of me? How would he remember me from that point on?
In the grand scheme of things, what I wrote was not that terrible but I have read other bloggers and parents on Facebook who often employ foul language and satirical humor in “complaints” directed at their children or spouses. Some of it is not very pretty. Sometimes I ask myself: Why would anyone tell such potentially embarrassing stories or make such comments about the people they love?
As an American, I deplore most kinds of censorship. I believe creative thought should never be squelched. However, I would hate for my wife or son to read my posts and interpret them as anything but humorous or tongue-in-cheek. I came to wonder if telling the whole blogging world everything that goes on in my child’s life might come to embarrass him some day. Maybe he wouldn’t want all of those stories to be spread outside of our home.
So what do I do? While I wouldn’t want others to censor my writing, in this case it’s my family and I have to think about their feelings. While some of my potential writings about my family would make for great stories, I feel I have to be more selective in choosing what I write. I have to stop and think how it may be interpreted by others before writing it, let alone before hitting the “publish” button because I don’t want my son to think I resent him. I love him.
So this time, I went back to that post and hit “delete.”
Tom Benedict says
Self-censorship is something I wrestle with every time I write, be it a short story, a blog post, or even a comment on someone else’s blog. I can’t say your choice to hit delete was wrong since it’s what I do 99.99% of the time. But in a lot of ways I wish I wouldn’t.
Of the blogs I read, my favorite is written by Jenny Lawson. She involves her family and friends in her posts as well as the books she’s written, and is candid in ways I’ve never managed to be. In her second book she explained her method:
She never publishes anything that could be used against her daughter by some other kid. Any time she mentions someone by name she runs the copy past them before publishing to get their permission. If someone has to be the butt of a joke, she makes sure it’s her and not someone else.
I’ve tried to incorporate these ideas in my own writing but it’s tough. The danger of overactive self-censorship is that it can become a slippery slope that leads to dry, unoffensive writing. I put my own writing firmly in that category. Once you’re there it’s a real struggle to fight your way free. There are times to use the delete key, but there are times when it’s better to let the words out.